Gay marriage and polygamous marriage

Rod Dreher asks: If same-sex marriage, why not polygamy? I think an excessive legalistic focus in this area confuses. Rather, if we focus on the ends then the distinctions are obvious:

– Same-sex marriage is not the human norm. Polygamy is very common, even dominant as the ideal, across human societies (at least until recently)

– Many men who would not enter into same-sex marriages because they are not homosexual in a biological sense may in fact find polygamy congenial to their biological imperatives!

Legally in terms of liberty I think one makes a good case that there isn’t that much of a difference between same-sex marriage and polygamy when you take normative Western traditions off the table. But when it comes to ends, a moderately liberal friend of mine once observed: “How come polygamous societies are always shitty societies?”

Conventional social conservatives are wont to suggest that gay marriage, and gays more broadly, threaten their way of life. As a generality I think this is wrong, because aggressive anti-heterosexual cultural radicals in the gay community are no longer dominant. And, straight people are born straight. In contrast, I do think that the polygamist is a threat to the monogamous way of life. For elite males serial monogamy is already relatively common. For underclass individuals institutional monogamy is an uncommon part of their lives. A solemnized polygamist alternative may seem attractive to many. But like law school, many males may enter with aspirations, but few exit to success, in these societies.

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14 Responses to Gay marriage and polygamous marriage

  1. John says:

    Polygamous societies do have all sorts of social problems, much of it from the large numbers of unmarried men it creates. China, with its soon to be large number of unmarried adult men, might be instructive on this issue. I also agree that while few men are tempted by gay marriage, many would be by polygamy. I suspect that in the long run, most women would go with the flow rather than force men to stay with one woman. Also, I’ve heard that most polygamous marriages are unhappy affairs, with either the women fighting over the man, or teaming up against the man. The only convincing utilitarian argument for polygamy is the eugenic one: why should the men with best genes waste them by having just one wife?

  2. Hortensio says:

    There is also a large difference in the legal structure of monogamous and polygamous marriages.

    Giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages is just an extention of current monogamous marriage law. There is no equivalent framework for polygamous marriages.

    How does one settle a polygamous divorce? Who gets custody rights to any children? How does income-splitting work between three people? If one man and two women, are the women just married to the man or also to each other?

    Given that and the generally terrible state of societies with polygamy (e.g. Saudi Arabia, some fundamentalist Mormon cults), I see no reason to encourage or condone polygamous marriage and certainly no reason to grant it legal recognition.

  3. WmarkW says:

    This kind of ties into something I could have written under the Why Are you a Conservative thread, but didn’t. Liberals like to “envision what’s never been, and ask Why Not.” But a lot of the time, they don’t really put much effort into answering it. If straights can marry, so should gays. Why Not?

    They’d like to see the oppressed underclass of Mexico be given a fresh start. Why Not? (Black HS dropout unemployment tops 50% in many places.)

    They’d like every worker to earn a family-supporting wage and health benefits. Why Not? (Jobs will go overseas.)

    They’d like women to get equal educational resources to men, including sports. Why Not? (Women just aren’t as interested in playing sports as men.)

    A liberal, correctly, rejects “tradition” as a justification for anything that seriously limits a person’s life. (Eating turkey on Thanksgiving does not qualify.) But in doing so, they fail to distinguish “experience” as being a valid reason.

  4. Doug1 says:

    Conventional social conservatives are wont to suggest that gay marriage, and gays more broadly, threaten their way of life. As a generality I think this is wrong, because aggressive anti-heterosexual cultural radicals in the gay community are no longer dominant. And, straight people are born straight.

    They’re pretty dominant among obligate lesbians, at least anti-male heterosecuals. The females they often try to convert.

  5. Nandalal Rasiah says:

    it’s not just your liberal friend that has serious concerns about polygamous arrangements, it’s also the canadian government:

  6. RBARON321 says:

    While I can’t seem to locate it now, I remember reading a scholarly article that pined the eventual emergence of democracy in the West on the Augustus’s decision to impose monogamy through his morality laws. This lead to the only place and time (post-roman Europe) where monogamy was the norm. The expectation of some basic equality between men lead to rule of law, basic democracy, etc, etc. It was certainly thought provoking.

    Is anyone aware of a society, current or historical; big or small, where polygamy works(ed)??

  7. RBARON321 says:

    In a potential answer to my question, I can only think of modern day South Africa.

  8. David Hume says:

    While I can’t seem to locate it now, I remember reading a scholarly article that pined the eventual emergence of democracy in the West on the Augustus’s decision to impose monogamy through his morality laws.

    then that’s a retarded scholarly article. democracy was a swear word in the west between the end of the greek experiment and the 19th century. that also seems a moronic interpretation of agustus’ intent to restore republican virtue.

  9. m.d. says:

    Opponents of gay marriage routinely deny any hard feelings against gays but I think they’re lying. They’re against gay marriage becuase they don’t consider homosexual relationships valid. That any of them would feel the need to deny having anything against homosexuality only proves that they’ve lost that battle.

    Once homosexuality became (for the most part) socially acceptable, gay marriage became inevitable.

    Polygamy on the other hand isn’t socially acceptable and there’s little demand for it, and that’s why there’s no movement to make it legal. There’s also the practical issues Horensio mentioned (distibution of property in a divorce, child custody, inheritance, etc), but I don’t think that’s got much to do with why no one’s talking about legalizing it.

  10. David Hume says:

    to be clear: i am not worried about a social movement promoting polygamy in the west, i am worried that the courts will use the egalitarian logic that the gay marriage movements and rule that polygamy also falls under that stricture. courts have been known to make rulings which are out of sync with the society at large and its mores based on abstract reasoning.

  11. m.d. says:

    I suppose that’s not impossible. Laws outlawing polygamy and bigamy have been held by the Supreme Court to be constitutional, though (Reynolds case). I don’t believe there’s much cause to worry about the SC reversing itself on that one any time soon. But don’t let me stop you from worrying about it.

  12. Chris says:

    I think the best way to prevent judicial overreach from spreading to polygamy in the wake of SSM victories is to defend the monogamous norm in the same rights-based language as proponents of SSM. Conservatives might find arguments centered around preservation of norms and long-term social consequences sufficiently persuasive, but that risks sounding like so much close-mindedness to libertarians or lifestyle liberals.

    This is why I tend to prefer Jon Rauch’s formulation of Razib’s closing argument on the surfeit of unwed males in polygamous societies. Rauch argues that, because, human sexuality and history being what it is, men would be much more likely to avail themselves of multiple spouses than women in polygamous societies (polygynous marriages will far out number polyandrous ones). However, given essentially equal sex-ratios in humans, this means every man who takes an additional wife actively denies another the ability to marry at all. Thus, while gay marriage extends the right to marry to a disadvantaged subgroup, state-sanctified polygamy constricts that same right to a shrinking number of advantaged men.

    Hopefully, arguments of that nature will enable wayward liberal justices to dig-in against potential slippery slopes. Rauch’s full essay is here, BTW:

  13. Jancis M. Andrews says:

    Gay marriage still involves only two people, each with equal rights and equal responsibilies. That is not true of the ancient patriarchal practise of polygamy. It comes to us from the dark ages when women were regarded as chattels and were collected as concubines in harems in much the same way that rich men might collect cars. Because of the imbalance — one man with many women all fighting for his attention — there can never be any equality within polygamy. Chief Justice Robert Bauman has just recognized this truth in the decision he brought down in BC Supreme Court,which comprises 354 pages of careful reasoning, distilled from listening to many groups, both pro and con polygamy. He said that polygamy is basically harmful to ALL society, but particularly so to women and children, and that polygamy contravenes women’s equality rights. That is why he declared that S. 293 CC, which proscribes polygamy, is constitutional. The overwhelming majority of Canadians are delights with his decision, and look forward to the elders of the sick polygamous cult of Bountiful being charged with the sexual exploitation of underage girls, and the denial of rights to the young men who were forced out of Bountiful in order to leave more concubines for the selfish elders. Nature has ensured there are not even two women for every one man, and those men who indulge in polygamy are robbing other men of the chance to have a wife and family of their own.
    Jancis M. Andrews

  14. Konkvistador says:

    I find the idea of legal change being the whichever by which monogamy is displaced in Western societies to be silly.

    It won’t work like that.

    How in the world is the state going to prevent people who want to live in polygamy from doing so? Oh sure it can prevent them from obtaining a piece of paper that says “married”, but cohabitation laws have in practice often been approaching the rights and responsibilities given to married couples.

    Eventually cohabitation laws will need to be clarified as to the legal complications of two women and a man forming a household.

    The idea that the state should ban people from living together and having children is barbaric in my opinion, while the idea of society promoting monogamy through cultural means is a joke. Do people here even check the social data?

    Monogamy is probably pretty good for society. But the problem is that it can only be maintained by illiberal means.

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